Friday, February 22, 2013


Cultural literacy is the knowledge of history, contributions, and perspectives of different cultural groups, including one's own group, necessary for understanding of reading, writing, and other media. Cultural literacy requires interaction with a culture and reflection of it. It is one's possession of a broad range of general knowledge and the use of that knowledge to build communication, acceptance, and understanding in an ever changing global society (Desmond, 2011).

Cultural literacy is the cornerstone of all other forms of literacy in the sense that all forms of literature and media will have influence from its culture of origin. The only form of information with minimal influence is national media but even then, without cultural literacy and understanding, no one could completely digest the information. Understanding the inner workings of culture is critically important beginning with one’s own. Local expressions, colloquialisms and idioms nearly always mask additional meaning and understanding these is key to success in any environment. Unfortunately there is a severe lack of cultural acceptance and understanding as expressed by Bernard Schweizer (2009), “…I realize that we no longer live in a culture that encourages and reinforces a shared knowledge basis with regard to history, geography, literature, and the sciences” (pp. 53). He goes on to say that these shortcomings translate into problems with diction and literacy. Naturally it is important to grasp other cultures but it is also evident that we must first understand our own so that we may develop a tolerance and learn to draw “parallels” (Polistina 2010, pp. 1) rather than comparisons to other cultures in order to increase and improve our literacy in all we attempt. 

Cultural literacy is very important because it is found in many contexts.  To understand any reference to American politics, geography, and history, along with understanding jokes and idioms, a person needs rich cultural literacy.  Otherwise they will find themselves lost in conversations with no point of reference.  This is often true from anyone learning English and first living in the United States.  Through constant exposure to American mainstream culture and learning American slang, a person can acquire American cultural literacy.  The same is true in the reverse scenario when an American travels to another country.

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